An Indian startup turns discarded temple flowers into incense and other products, providing hundreds of jobs for local women
Spotted: Waste is probably not the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘temple’, but each year, millions of tonnes of flowers are left as offerings at Indian temples. For religious reasons, these offerings can’t be thrown into landfills, so they end up in rivers. The flowers are often covered in pesticides, toxic metals, and insecticides, and once they reach the water, the chemicals wash off, creating toxic compounds that suppress oxygen levels and threaten marine life. Sitting by the Ganges one day, watching as colourful flowers were dumped in the river, Ankit Agarwal got the idea for Phool (the Hindi for ‘flower’).
The startup employs around 1,200 women, many of whom do not have access to traditional employment, to collect more than 13 tonnes of floral waste from temples in Uttar Pradesh each day. The petals are removed from the flowers and sorted by colour, while the stems are used to create a compost that is sold as a separate product. The petals are dried, then ground and mixed with water and essential oils to create a clay, which is rolled into incense sticks. All of this work is done by hand.
In addition to reducing waste and providing much-needed jobs, the incense sticks are also charcoal-free, so they release fewer harmful chemicals than traditional incense sticks. While, at first, Phool had to convince temples to give them their flower waste, today, temple authorities want to be part of the project, realising that it helps both the environment and people. The company also makes essential oils and other fragrance products.
Phool is also working to develop methods for turning the flowers into products such as a vegan leather and a biodegradable alternative to Styrofoam. The company explains that they, “have invested ourselves heavily into our R&D to invent methods to convert temple-waste into biodegradable packaging and bio-leathers. We are also constantly trying to enhance our impact on empowering the women who are employed with us. It has been our earnest effort to turn this pious waste collection into a full-blown social enterprise which now spans three cities.”
Springwise has highlighted a number of organisations that combine innovation with job opportunities. These include a social enterprise that promotes affordable menstrual hygiene and a coffee chain that provides employment for employees with disabilities.
Written By: Lisa Magloff